Mueller Report

May 29, 2019

Several of my friends have wondered:  What part of “… this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him” supports the “No Collusion, No Obstruction” response from the Trump White House.

My theory is based on a variety of academic studies over the past 2 decades which have determined that an ‘average American adult’ reads at (or about) the eighth grade level.

The reading skills of American adults are significantly lower than those of adults in most other developed countries, according to a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development based on a sample of 160,000 people from two dozen developed nations.

The Mueller Report is an academic treatise written at a level which clearly exceeds the abilities of most American adults to engage; read; analyze; and conclude.

The ability to read fluently, critically and for understanding— to be able to learn from text— may be the most important foundational skill for U.S. adult citizens’ health, well-being, and social and economic advancement.

Critical reading skills are the gateway to lifelong learning, education, and training.

The internet and social networking currently operate through the written word, thus reading literacy provides access to an infinite and readily accessible library of the world’s knowledge, as well as the ability to communicate with friends, family, and employers.

The digital revolution provided access to information which is the foundation for an informed society — except for those adults who continue to struggle to read and/or comprehend.

We have a crisis in America.  The Mueller Report is written at a level which exceeds the skills of the majority of Americans — including many of those currently serving in Congress — to understand, analyze and arrive at critically informed conclusions.

The Pew Research Center recently reported that adults with a high school degree (or less) represent the majority (37%) of U.S. adults who report not reading books in any format in the past year.

I have to wonder – and I hope you will join me —  How many of these 37% of adults who don’t read books (and perhaps don’t read critically?) are members of the Trump Base?

 

 

 

 

 

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Don’t Tread on Me

May 17, 2019

The late George Wallace, former Alabama Governor, was noted for his rigid and often harsh opinions which he shared freely with the rest of the world.  In his 1963 inauguration speech, Wallace proclaimed, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

In response to what he felt was federal government overreach in its attempt to desegregate the University of Alabama, Wallace said, “The unwelcomed, unwanted, unwarranted, and force-induced intrusion upon the campus of the University of Alabama today of the might of the central government offers frightful example of the oppression of the rights, privileges and sovereignty of this state by officers of the federal government.”

Or, slightly modified to address current events, “The unwelcomed, unwanted, unwarranted, and force-induced intrusion upon the reproductive rights of women across the State of Alabama today of the might of the state government offers frightful example of the oppression of the rights, privileges and sovereignty of individual citizens by elected officials of the state government.”

It’s one thing to observe the sons, male cousins and grandsons of the late George Wallace as they link hands with the remaining white male disciples of the former Alabama Governor to assert their testosterone-fueled dominance over whatever they find annoying or objectionable.

It’s another thing to listen to female elected officials in Alabama proudly proclaiming victory over the right of women — as individuals protected by the same rights the US Constitution conveys to men — to make determinations over their own reproductive health.

Alabama House Rep. Terri Collins, who sponsored the bill, publicly identifies as female, as does Alabama Governor Kay Ivey who signed the bill into law.

Have they completely lost touch with reality?

Someone recently said, “I don’t know of any woman who engaged in sexual activity – forced or consensual – with the hope to have an abortion.”

Abortion is not a sport; it is a deeply personal and painful decision which should be made carefully and rationally, because it has lifetime repercussions.

Those who fly the Gadsden flag and rail against government intrusion on individual rights are often the very same folks who are adamantly pro-life and who vehemently oppose a woman’s right to self-determination.

The Gadsden Flag says it all…

 

I was looking forward to hearing the testimony of Michael Cohen before the House Oversight Committee, particularly interested to learn more about some of the ‘behind the scenes’ actions and activities which took place during Cohen’s ten year stint as a lawyer for Donald Trump, and as an executive of The Trump Organization.

It is clear that Michael Cohen is guilty of multiple frauds and felonies.

Cohen pleaded guilty to eight charges in August 2018, including several counts of tax fraud and campaign finance violations. He also pleaded guilty in November 2018 to a charge of lying to Congress from Special Counsel Mueller’s office.

Said Cohen, “I take full responsibility for each act that I pled guilty to:  The personal ones to me and those involving the President of the United States of America.”

In December 2018, Cohen was sentenced to a term in federal prison for the eight criminal counts he pleaded guilty to in August. The judge gave him an additional two months for the special counsel charge.

Despite pending imprisonment for his acknowledged bad behavior, Cohen agreed to provide public testimony to the House Oversight Committee on February 27, 2019.

It was my expectation that – during this public hearing – committee members would politely hear testimony from Mr. Cohen, followed by a question and answer session which might provide us with a broader understanding of the issues.

Upon completion of the public hearing, I anticipated that members of the committee would meet sometime in the near future to study, discuss and debate the findings of the hearing.

At a future date, I expected that I would learn from traditional media sources about next steps:  Further investigation?  Criminal referral(s)?  Case closed?

I appreciate and covet freedom of speech, and I am cognizant of special protections afforded to Members of Congress to ensure they are not censured for statements made in their official capacity.

That said, today I witnessed two members of the House Oversight Committee go off course early in the proceedings, and they continued to cloud and obfuscate the intended purpose of the hearing almost to the very end.

The behavior and demeanor of Rep. Jim Jordan (R, OH) and Rep. Mark Meadows (R, NC) on 2/27/19 (as displayed on national television) was unprofessional; inappropriate; and absolutely unacceptable coming from elected Members of Congress.

I am a citizen and registered voter in the United States.

As such, I am entitled to all of the protections afforded by the Constitution of the United States, including the expectation that elected Members of the House will (1) behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House; (2) adhere to the spirit and the letter of the Rules of the House and to the rules of duly constituted committees thereof; and (3) not receive or accept compensation, favors or other benefits from any source which would occur by virtue of influence improperly exerted from their elected position in Congress.

It is my belief that both Rep. Jordan and Rep. Meadows repeatedly violated their basic duties of comportment and professionalism during their activities today as members of the House Oversight Committee.

I do hope the House Ethics Committee will hold each of these individuals fully accountable for their unprofessional, inappropriate, and unacceptable public behavior, and I encourage others to demand accountability from Congress.

What is there about the simple concept of separating day-to-day operations from long-term planning that our elected federal officials seem unwilling or unable to comprehend?

Our current federal budgetary process was set into law by the 1974 Budget Control Act, based on a federal fiscal year which runs from October 1st to September 30th.  Thus our current Federal Fiscal Year — known as FY 2019 — runs from October 1, 2018 until September 30, 2019.

In February 2018, President Trump – through the Office of Management and Budget – submitted a proposed budget to Congress for FY 2019. The operating budget for FY 2019 was discussed, deliberated and adopted, and it needs to be funded.

There just isn’t any room in the process for the President – or any other elected official — to demand modifications to the current FY budget prior to approving ongoing funding for current government operations.

While it is unfortunately true that Congress doesn’t always follow the schedule as proscribed in the 1974 Budget Control Act, the proper time for the President to present new spending initiatives to Congress is during the annual federal budget deliberations process which typically begins in January when the OMB presents a proposed FY budget to the President.

President Trump’s current demands are only legitimately appropriate as a component of a proposed FY 2020 federal budget proposal.

PLEASE:  Let’s get the federal government back into its day-to-day operation by providing necessary current funding, and bring the debate over additional border funding where it belongs – in the discussions and deliberation toward a FY 2020 federal budget.

Where’s Mitch McConnell?

January 17, 2019

Where’s Mitch is a question many people are asking.

There are 800,000 federal workers and their families who are going without pay right now – including thousands of Kentuckians.

Here in Florida, we have about 5,000 Coast Guard members doing their jobs to protect our 1,350 miles of Gulf and Atlantic coastline, and they are not currently being paid.

The new Democratic House, on its first day in office, passed two bills funding and reopening the government.

McConnell has refused to allow a vote on any of those bills in the Senate. He’s even twice blocked a bill reopening the government from coming to the floor that he himself voted for back in December.

Despite the fact that Majority Leader McConnell has the ability to end this shutdown right now, Mitch is seemingly nowhere to be found.

I’m angry that this one man who has the power to stop this absurd drama has refused to do his job.

If you are nearly as angry as I am, perhaps you will consider donating $15 – or what you can afford – to the Ditch Mitch movement.  Let’s shine a bright light on McConnell’s irresponsible behavior.

http://ditchmit.ch/

 

The Trump Trifecta

October 26, 2018

Since taking office in January 2017, Donald Trump has stood with House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to proclaim various ‘victories’ for the American people.  Here are what seem to be the top three, A.K.A. “The Trifecta”:

  1. Complicit with Russia, Saudi Arabia and several other suspect regimes. Trump has continued to send public messages which downplay and/or absolve bad actors from behaviors which are contrary to existing international standards.

One clear reason:  Trump — and his close advisor Jared Kushner —  is involved in highly leveraged real estate development.  Neither Trump nor Kushner have the liquidity or availability of traditional financing sources to invest their own money.  Instead, they are forced to chase shady money from around the world, including huge sums of money sourced from Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, etc.

Essentially, Trump (along with the Kushner Companies) is beholden to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; Vladimir Putin; various Chinese investors; along with ‘dark money’ sources in Cyprus, Panama and the Cayman Islands, among others.

2. The “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” (TCJA) was passed in late 2017 incorporating some modest temporary individual and small business tax cuts while focusing in on very substantial big business and corporate tax cuts.

Traditional economic models, developed and refined over countless economic cycles, encourage tax cuts and deficit spending during economic downturns as a means to stimulate economic growth.  During times of economic expansion, increased government revenue from tax collections is then used to pay down public debt and help stabilize the economy.

N.B.  There was a strong case to be made for a modest corporate tax cut as the U.S. economy began to improve post 2012; there was zero legitimate case to be made for the magnitude of the corporate tax cut which was a cornerstone of the 2017 TCJA.

The foundation of the TCJA was a promise that slashing corporate taxes from a maximum 35% rate to a 21% cap would result in dramatic increases in capital investment, resulting in job creation and wage growth.  Americans for Tax Reform, a vocal advocate for the plan, generated promises of employee bonuses, increased wages, increased retirement contributions and/or expanded business operations as a result of the TCJA.

Actual outcomes of the Tax Cuts?  Record stock buybacks; extraordinary executive compensation; flat employee compensation; and continued failure of venerable American corporations.

Definitive proof of the foolishness of cutting taxes in a time of economic expansion?  A rapidly expanding federal budget deficit.  According to the final monthly Treasury Statement for Fiscal Year 2018 (the year that ended on 9/30/2018), the deficit was $779 Billion — a $113 Billion (17%) increase over the$666 Billion deficit recorded from FY 2017.

Perhaps most egregious to the American people?  Mitch McConnell is blaming self-funded safety net programs [Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid] as the root cause of our rising federal deficit.  Visualize McConnell as he does a little smile; looks straight into the camera; and then blatantly lies to the American people.  Was he also lying when he took the Oath of Office?

3.  Incendiary, Irrational and Emotionally-Inspired Immigration Policy:

Right or wrong, the U.S. economy depends on immigrant workers – documented or undocumented. Industry sectors which rely on immigrants for between 1/4 and 1/2 of their employment needs include: agriculture; hospitality; construction; textile, apparel and leather manufacturing; food manufacturing; and private households.

Through a series of small moves that add up to dramatic change, the Trump administration has bypassed Congress to create new process and procedures which could have lasting effects on how the US welcomes and evaluates immigrants.

In his election campaign in June 2015, Trump told us, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists…”

By painting virtually all immigrants with a broad brush as criminals; as a national security threat to the U.S.; as bad people; as people who steal jobs from Americans;  he has created a hostile environment on the world stage, offering fear and fallacies with no attempt to find viable and sustainable solutions.

In late October 2018, facing a ‘caravan of migrants’ moving north from Central America toward the U.S. Southern border, Trump has proclaimed that there are ‘criminals and people of Middle Eastern descent among the migrants within the caravan’ and has pointed to it as evidence that the U.S. has weak immigration laws. He has also threatened to cut off aid to Central American countries in response to the caravan.

An internal report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General found that the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” crackdown at the border in early 2018 was troubled from the outset by planning shortfalls, widespread communication failures and administrative indifference to the separation of small children from their parents.

It has been said that the Trump Child Separation Policy is related to the worst abuses of humanity in history.  Child separation is connected by the same evil that separated families during slavery, and which dislocated tribes and broke up Native American families.

What’s the point?

The point is that differences of opinion are a cornerstone of society, and a critical ingredient of humanity.

The very essence of Debate relies on formal discussion on a particular topic.

In an honest debate, opposing arguments are put forward to argue for opposite  viewpoints. Genuine and honest debate can occur in public meetings, academic institutions, and in legislative assemblies.

A genuine debate requires some ground rules, particularly in the areas of logical consistency and factual accuracy, yet it also allows some degree of emotional appeal to the audience.

Sadly, today’s discussions on topics of importance to the American People seem to lack any rules about civility, logic or even factual accuracy.

Turn on the television and we find absolutism, tribalism and a “win at any cost” approach to delicate yet important societal issues. Dialogue has effectively been replaced by diatribe.

Worse, people can select news sources which support and reinforce their biases, finding comfort in “being right” by selective listening or watching. No time or need to consider other options when the platform has been fully developed to mirror your comfort zone.

Add to this dilemma the continuing disenfranchisement of American adults from the political process.

More adult males in America today are able to recite NFL statistics than are able explain issues facing American society, and women are not far behind.

Voter turnout in the United States fluctuates in national elections. In recent elections, about 60% of the voting eligible population votes during presidential election years, and about 40% votes during midterm elections. Turnout is lower for odd year, primary and local elections.

If we compare national voter participation in the 2016 presidential election to viewership of the 2016 Superbowl, we find a dead heat at around 112 Million.

Not necessarily the same people, but it does strike me that we have a real disconnect between the American public and our governance model, perhaps helping to explain why our system seems to be in need of some serious adjustments at this point in time.

“We Fed an Island”

September 15, 2018

While U.S. President Trump continues to blame the people of Puerto Rico and their elected local leadership for delays, inefficiencies and various failures in the response to the aftermath of Hurricane Maria (2017), Trump is lavish with praise for the wonderful response by his administration.

“I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success,” Mr. Trump said.  “I actually think it is one of the best jobs that’s ever been done with respect to what this is all about.”

Meanwhile, other sources do not agree with President Trump’s assessment.

One of the true unsung heroes involved in the Island’s recovery from Hurricane Maria is José Andrés, a chef and restaurateur who helped organize others from the food industry to form a veritable army comprised of both professionals and volunteers to feed residents, medical professionals and other disaster response workers.

A year after the initial response to Maria began, José Andrés has released a book reflecting on his experiences and lessons learned from the disaster response.

This article from the Washington Post describes his passion and introduces the book in a manner I wish I was able:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/jose-andress-riveting-we-fed-an-island-calls-for-a-revolution-in-disaster-relief/2018/09/05/b126d766-ad70-11e8-b1da-ff7faa680710_story.html?utm_term=.df529f66adc0

Our system of governance in the U.S. is highly dependent on the willingness and ability of citizens to elect leaders who will solve the problems and challenges of the current environment, and who will promote institutional adaptations in the long-term public interest.

Most of us will identify with the basic attributes scholars often point to as the foundation for effective public leaders: (1) Honesty; (2) Basic and Common roots; and (3) A reputation of high integrity and personal principles.

As I searched for the “secret sauce” of public sector leadership, I found a few terrific recipes.

My favorite might be, “If leadership has a secret sauce, it may well be humility. A humble boss understands that there are things he doesn’t know.”

Some contenders include,

“Good leaders motivate and encourage others.” Continued emphasis on controlling and/or reducing costs in the public sector puts extreme pressure on public sector employees.  Good leaders create supportive atmospheres and encourage initiative. They invest in their people and foster skill growth. And when employees are satisfied in a healthy environment, great results likely will follow.

“Good leaders communicate clearly and listen attentively.” When good leaders sincerely listen to the needs and challenges of their constituents, they can respond effectively and bring about the greatest positive change.

“Good leaders are trustworthy.” Trustworthiness is built upon integrity and character. When people trust leaders and value their integrity, they tend to be more open to new ideas and exude a willingness to try.

“Good leaders think critically and act collaboratively.” Effective decision makers employ careful consideration and analysis of the evidence before formulating a decision. Public sector decisions can have multi-generational impact, so using a team approach incorporating strong analytical, problem solving and critical thinking skills is essential to the job.

“Good leaders are resilient.” In the world of public policy and governance, the only constant is change. Uncontrollable external variables will create unexpected challenges. Good leaders remain positive; they develop alternative solutions; and they encourage confidence in their employees to help ensure they will remain effective at the most crucial times.

My greatest hope is that other fellow citizens of the U.S. will take a few minutes to step back and think about the strategic implications of leadership.

America’s Teachers

April 12, 2018

America’s teachers have notoriously been underpaid relative to their peer group. The excuses include, (a) Flexibility; (b) Summers off; (c) a profession dominated by women (and we all know that women earn about 80% of what men earn for comparable experience in similar jobs).

If I were a young person approaching college graduation, I might look at starting salary, and projections for advancement over the course of my career.

If I did that, teaching would not likely be on my list of job choices.

According to a study published by US News and World Report looking at the best jobs for 2018 college graduates, there are dozens of opportunities which absolutely blow away starting salaries for teachers, which seem to be in the $38k range.

One random example is an entry level Financial Analyst in the area of investment banking, private banking and the securities industry. The highest paid in the financial analyst profession work in the metropolitan areas of San Francisco, New York City, and San Luis Obispo, California. The Stamford /Bridgeport, CT area also pays well, as does the city of Salem, Oregon.

San Francisco      $141,840
New York City     $133,130
San Luis Obispo, CA  $120,750
Bridgeport (Stamford), CT   $120,520
Salem, Oregon            $120,150

These are median starting salaries for newly minted graduates.  What’s most egregious about this?

On a really good day, financial analysts provide zero economic value-added to our overall economy and society; on a bad day, they can cause catastrophic damage. Financial analysts produce no tangible outputs; they endeavor to discover and exploit financial opportunities to benefit their firm and its clients at the expense of other individuals.

Teachers bring value every day, yet they are generally under-respected and certainly, under-compensated. Teachers are the mechanism by which we build future intellectual capital to benefit future generations in and across the U.S.

Some may argue that this example attempts to pit Capitalism against Socialism:  Nice try on that one!

Pure capitalism relies on the premise that private capital, invested strategically, adds value to the overall economy and society, while providing a fair and reasonable profit to the capitalist(s).

Pure socialism requires a government controlled population of workers to both plan and operate the system; true socialism requires government control of all economic as well as political and public affairs.

By levying fair and reasonable income taxes on excess or suspicious profits, a nation is able to re-invest those taxes into strategic and forward-focused programs and initiatives, such things as: bridges; tunnels; airports; rail rapid transit; healthcare research and innovations; and public education – including teacher quality and teacher compensation.

Teachers need to re-focus their compensation and resource allocation argument toward pure economics.

It strikes me that the message needs to be:  “High quality, well-compensated teachers who are provided with appropriate and needed classroom resources help to shape and create the next generation of high-performance, highly motivated and productive citizens our nation will need to ensure future economic and political success.
There is no substitute for a ready and reliable supply of intellectual capital waiting in the wings to take charge in the coming decades.”

A half century ago, the Baby Boomer generation entered adulthood with plenty of energy and commitment to help make our world safer and better.  As they set forth to establish families of their own, careers and all of the rest, they faced some unexpected head winds.  The rapidity of technological change combined with growing economic and social divides put extraordinary pressure on these young families, and they became self-absorbed.

The direct socioeconomic impacts of American suburbanization didn’t really begin to take hold until the 1970’s.  The resulting economic and racial segregation shielded the next generation(s) of middle class young people growing up in suburbia, away from their less affluent peers who were left behind in urban neighborhoods. They lost touch with each other, not able to see common ground.

Somehow, things have begun to change for the positive.

Maybe Trump’s legacy will be as the unconscious ‘uniter’ of the people of good will — Americans who reject corruption, self-dealing and bullying — who regardless of hair color, height, weight, economics, gender, race, skin tone, religion, sexual orientation, learning and/or mobility differences, and many more… — refuse to participate in the Trump Swamp.

This emerging generation, evidenced by the Parkland students, are showing signs of unity under a new paradigm of The American Dream, where the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are honestly and equitably recognized and applied.

To date, Trump has certainly distinguished himself as the polar opposite of genuine American values.

While it’s still too early to celebrate any victories, I am betting on the young people who have taken an active role in the March For Our Lives movement — and the millions of their supporters (average age 48!) — to continue to energize and inspire the vast majority of U.S. citizens and residents who want to see common sense prevail.